Europe: To go or not to go

By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency

Both Cuba and Europe are prominent in current headlines, for very different reasons, but both raise the question about whether you should think of visiting this year.

Cuba, once a popular destination, then off-limits for six decades, is now again in play as a possible tourist destination. The opening is not complete; you still have to get a tourist card and claim one of 12 destination activities other than “just hanging out,” but most of the barriers are gone. Almost all the big U.S. airlines have applied for scheduled flights to Cuba, which will start late summer or fall, and if you can’t wait that long, you can find charters right now or you can go through Canada, Nassau or Cancun with no worries. U.S. hotel companies are already making deals to manage Cuban hotels. It’s now legal to spend U.S. dollars in Cuba, and it’s legal to bring back a combination of cigars and rum up to $100 in value.

But the question for many potential visitors is to discover exactly what kind of destination the current Cuba will be:

  • Havana is a historic colonial city with a unique culture, musical and culinary heritage, and pre-Castro it was also wide open with gambling and the sex trade, reportedly furnished by “the mob.”
  • Pre-Castro Varadero was a picture-perfect beach just beginning to be developed to the standards of nearby islands, and other beaches were even less developed.

Although Cuba lost its number one visitor source, the revolutionary government did not ignore tourism. It developed its beaches and promoted its cities for their historical and cultural heritage as destinations for Canadian and European sun-seekers. Visitors from the United States will find fully functional beach destinations and cities that retain their colonial charm, although a bit worn-down and without the wide-open part. And Cuba remains a dictatorship.

Also, according to reports, visitors will find a scarcity of hotel accommodations, especially at the high end, and other minor hindrances. When I checked last week, TripAdvisor’s metasearch system found only one online agency, Turkey-based, able to book Cuban hotels directly. Recent visitors urge you to try to arrange accommodations in personal homes through Airbnb and similar organizations. Although quite a few places accept major credit cards, many U.S. banks have not yet set up their systems to handle transactions from Cuba. ATMs are few and far between. Local public transport is antiquated, although intercity bus operator Viazul provides modern service among the island’s main centers, and you can fly internally on Cubana.

Overall, my take is that the main reason to visit Cuba this year would be to enjoy Havana or one of the other main colonial cities, especially if you want to see Cuba before the inevitable changes. If you just want sun, sand and surf, dozens of nearby island beach destinations will provide more comfort, more accommodations options, and less hassle, at least for a while.

The problem in Europe is, of course, the outbreak of terrorist attacks. Neither I nor anyone else can predict where or when the next attack will occur, but ISIS is known to be targeting Europe. As I see it, you have two options:

  • If you’re willing to ignore the threat and visit the places you want to visit, go for it.
  • But if you’re the sort of traveler who is nervous about security, forget Europe and go somewhere else. Visiting anyplace where you’re constantly on edge takes all the fun out of travel.

If you do plan a trip to Europe, and if you face big nonrefundable up-front payments or penalties, buy trip-cancellation/interruption insurance that allows you to cancel for any reason. Typical insurance that covers cancellation for only a “covered reason’ is very sticky about security threats. Those policies can refund your money if an outbreak occurs in your specific destination, but they typically don’t cover you if you just get an uneasy feeling.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at

Tribune Content Agency — March 29, 2016


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